IOWA ICON: Maytag Blue Cheese

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If pride had a portrait…a face and a setting…if it had a scene and a story to define it…it might be here.

Between the hills outside Newton, the name of F.L. Maytag—once synonymous with high technology—lives on in an old-world craft.

“It’s looking nice, really nice, this is going to be some great cheese,” says head cheese maker, Bob Wadzinski.

A cheese maker’s day begins early, as milk arrives from small area farms.  Heated and skimmed of its curds…knowing hands guiding the way.

“You want that hands-on touch because cheese making is a science, but it’s also an art,” Wadzinski says.

Once hooped, the curds are allowed to settle…turning helps expel some of the air between them, but time does most of the work, so we wait.

E.H. Maytag took over the appliance company from his father, but he was different…a quiet man with a love of animals.

“At some point the family story is that one of his children was sick and the doctor recommended fresh milk,” says Fritz Maytag, grandson of E.H.

E.H. didn’t just buy milk, he bought a herd of Holstein cows, built the barns, created a prize-winning dairy…and E.H., says his family, found a separate peace, there.

“She said the reason he liked cows was that they didn’t ask him questions,” Fritz Maytag laughs.

Blue cheese begins the aging process pure white with a coat of salt…there is still some air inside the rounds and after months in the cold, humid air of these caves they begin their transformation.

“So wherever that airspace is," Wadzinski says, "you’re going to have a vein or a little pocket for this Roquefort mold to grow and develop.”

E.H. Maytag’s dairy was a hit, but his son, Fred took over with different ideas.

What he liked was cheese…specifically ”strong cheese.”

“He went to Iowa State," Fritz recalls, "and he said to them ‘I love strong cheese, I’ve got the dairy farm, I’ve got the whole thing set up, I’ve got the milk…can’t we somehow make a really interesting cheese?' Iowa State said 'how about blue cheese?'"

Maytag Blue Cheese became one of America’s first mail-order food items…wrapped in foil, delivered promptly. Fred Maytag’s baby won awards, wooed presidents and brought smiles.

“I was with my father quite a few times when someone came up and said ‘Gee, Maytag…are you related to that wonderful blue cheese?’ And if you said that my father just bloomed I mean he loved that.”

What head cheese maker, Bob Wadzinski, loves is something a little unconventional.

“It’s got a nice bloom on it," he smiles.  "A bloomy rind.”

Beautiful mold.  The cheese is ready…ready for more proud hands…wrapped lovingly as every Maytag wedge has ever been.  In today’s world, small scale assembly like this is a luxury and the Maytags know it.

“Most family businesses cannot afford to do that because the family needs to live on the business,” Maytag says.

Fritz Maytag has made his own fortune. He rescued the famous Anchor Steam beer in San Francisco in 1968 and started the microbrewing revolution. His beer science connected back to the dairy.

“Stainless steel, sanitation, temperature control, microbiology…it’s the same thing!”

Four generations of men, each leaving his indelible, individual mark.  Connected by their love of innovation, by the product which bears their name and by the pride coursing through all those associated with it.

“It’s amazing. If my father could see it? (laugh) It’s amazing.”

It’s more than that…Maytag Blue Cheese is an Iowa Icon.

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